La Jetee is a 1962 short-feature science fiction film by Chris Marker. Time travel is the primary theme of the film. It follows an unnamed prisoner during World War III through a series of experiments, forcing him to focus on a single image from his past as a path to send him back. The image is of a young woman standing in the wind on a jetty at Orly Airport.
The thought of the jailers is that given sufficient science and strong enough memories, the right people have the ability to remold what happened in their past into something else. After enough successful experiments they alter their program to send the prisoner into the future. The prisoner does imagine new ideas; perhaps the future or perhaps a dilution. He manages to get back to the past one more time. This time it is to the jetty, and a very jarring memory of the woman.
I have watched La Jetee several times now and it is interesting what I seem to take away after each viewing. The first time I watched it, I focused on the love that the main character has with the woman in his memory. This last time, though, I felt sorry for the character; it is difficult to really describe the sadness without giving anything away. However, with a twenty-eight-minute running time there is nothing to lose by sitting down and watching this film. It is available now to stream on Hulu, as well as in a Criterion two-pack with Sans Soleil, also by Chris Marker.
It is interesting to note that I have recently viewed two completely different mediums that pay tribute to La Jetee. The first was Terry Gilliam’s picture The Zero Theorem; this reference is both visual and in the idea of going to a place you hold deeply in the recesses of your imagination. The second is the music video Jump They Say by David Bowie; there is an interesting extra feature on the Blu-ray pertaining to Bowie’s video, alluding to Bowie being an artist from the future imbuing his music on the past.
La Jetee comes in on the Sight & Sound Top 50 in a three-way tie for number fifty. It almost seems like it may have been tacked on to the list, given the short running time. That said, I agree that the impact this film has had on cinema and artists that have come after it is clear. I highly recommend that everyone watch this film; it will give your soul something to think about.